A signature program at FernLeaf for ALL students is an annual overnight experience. An important part of FernLeaf's mission is to help students grow in numerous ways beyond just academics, and multi day overnight fieldwork experiences are an important part of this. Time away from families in a safe, structured, and fun environment with trusted adults allows students to develop self-confidence and build independence in ways that are just not possible in other settings. This is ONE example of many overnights that happened during the 22-23 school year!
When I arrived at school at 5:30 AM, there was a line of cars packed with excited students ready to go. After parking, students began to gather at the car rider area with their luggage. Goodbyes were said to parents, and students chatted in anticipation of the day's events. Right at 5:45 AM our charter bus pulled in and we loaded our luggage aboard, met our intrepid driver Vance, and headed north.
The sun rose as we drove through the mountains into eastern Tennessee. Students chatted, read books and watched the scenery roll by. The hours flew by, and after a quick stop for breakfast and a nice picnic lunch in Lexington, VA on the banks of the Maury river, we pulled into our first major stop: the Udvar-Hazy center of the National Air and Space Museum. If you’ve never been, it’s hard to describe. It is an enormous airplane hanger packed with every conceivable craft from the history of flight: from bi-planes to the Space Shuttle Discovery, and everything in between. Students split into small groups, and spent a couple of hours exploring the history of aviation.
Next, it was on to our hotel. Check in was seamless. Students had about an hour to settle into their room. It wasn’t long before they discovered the basketball court. Dinner was pizza, followed by a trip meeting, run much like our community meetings at school. We began by reflecting and sharing our best moments from the day, then moved on into a briefing for what the tomorrow would bring. After the meeting, some students decided to go for a swim in the pool, while others hung out with friends upstairs in the hotel rooms. At 9:30 PM all students were in their rooms for the night, tired and happy.
Today began with a quick and surprisingly good breakfast at the hotel. Students filtered down from their rooms, grabbed a bite, then headed upstairs to prepare for the day. By 8:30 AM we were ready, and the bus was waiting out front. Our hotel was located in Stirling VA, and with DC traffic, it took us about an hour to get downtown. We had a little trouble finding a spot to park the bus, but eventually found an open spot, hopped off the bus, and headed to the base of the Washington Monument to start our day.
The plan for the day was to split into 4 groups, each heading to a different Museum, then regroup after lunch to check out some of the Memorials. Our upper grades counselor, David, was taking a group to the Natural History Museum; Tanya to the American History Museum; Lisa and Hannah to the National Gallery of Art, and Me (Vic) to the Hirshorn Museum of Modern Art. The Hirshorn was wonderful, but a bit smaller than I remembered. After about an hour and a half, the group decided to move on to another museum. The consensus was to go to the Natural History Museum.
According to the other groups, they really enjoyed both the National Gallery and American History Museums. After a food truck lunch, the groups got back together and headed down to the Memorials. We started at the World War II memorial, then went to the Lincoln, Korean War, and Vietnam Veterans Memorials. After dinner at the Pentagon Mall, we headed back to the hotel for our trip meeting, some free time, then bed. There were a lot of best moments shared at the meeting, the students were tired after a long day, but happy with all they had done and seen.
Our third day began with another quick hotel breakfast, then we loaded up and headed out for the day. The plan for the morning was for our bus to drop us at the Dulles metro station. We would then ride the train into the city. The station was just a few miles from the hotel, but due to a navigation mishap, we were treated to a tour of the scenic back roads of Northern Virginia. After about 45 minutes, we were dropped off at the departures area of Dulles Airport. We took the slide way through the tunnel and emerged into the Metro Station.
This was the first time on a subway for about half of the students on the trip. It’s a long train ride into the city, taking about an hour, with a transfer of train lines at Metro Center. Once we arrived, we headed straight to the Holocaust Museum to see the America and the Holocaust exhibit. The exhibit was a powerful and sobering experience.
From there we walked to the Western Market food hall, which had a lot of amazing and delicious options for lunch. After lunch we took the Metro to the National Zoo, which we explored for a few hours, then it was time for dinner, and the king train ride back to Virginia.
According to my phone, we walked just about 9 miles that day, and 12 miles the day before, which explains why we were all pretty tired. At the hotel, we had a quick trip meeting to reflect on our day, and lay out the plan for tomorrow.
The plan for our last day in DC is to have a quick stop at Arlington Cemetery and head for home. It’s been an amazing trip.
Written By Vic Wiesel - 9th Grade English I & II & World History Teacher for FernLeaf